Fears for Turkmen Civil Activist Unfairly Punished in Prison

Turkmen civil activist and reporter Nurgeldi Halykov is being harshly treated while serving a four-year sentence on fabricated charges of fraud. He is sent to the punishment cell on the slightest pretext, and also when his case is reported in the media. There are fears that either the conditions of his detention as a “recalcitrant offender” will be toughened or his sentence will be extended following some kind of provocative incident. There was another mass amnesty in Turkmenistan recently, but it was not applied to Halykov or any of the other political prisoners.

Nurgeldi Halykov

To mark Qadr Night (the Night of Power) on April 17, 463 prisoners were pardoned in Turkmenistan. According to a turkmen.news source in the defence and security agencies, 143 people were released from penal colony LB-K/12 where Halykov is serving his sentence. They had mostly been sentenced for theft and fraud. Nurgeldi Halykov was also convicted of “fraud,” but he was not included in the amnesty.

The source said that over the past few months Halykov has been sent to the punishment cell several times for insignificant and often invented offences. Other prisoners have access to cell phones, but neither Halykov nor another political prisoner Murat Dushemov are ever allowed to make a call. If prisoners who have telephones offer them to Halykov or Dushemov, they themselves are sent to the punishment cell.

This year Halykov kept the Ramadan fast. It helps him to cope emotionally. He is badly bullied by penal colony officers and fears their acts of provocation. Halykov was sentenced to four years in fall 2020 and his sentence ends in 2024. Political prisoners in Turkmenistan often receive new sentences while they are in a colony, being found guilty, for example, of attacking a guard.

Halykov was really convicted for having contact with independent media. In summer 2020 a delegation from the World Health Organization visited Turkmenistan to assess the country’s readiness for COVID-19. A young woman relaxing with her friends at the Yyldyz Hotel in Ashgabat photographed the members of the delegation and put the photo on Instagram. Halykov saw the picture and sent it to turkmen.news.

The next day the young woman unfriended Halykov on Instagram and asked if it was him who had sent the photo to the media. A few hours later Halykov was summoned to the police. He later managed to contact turkmen.news to say he was being accused of failing to repay a debt to his friend Yuriy Rogusskiy. On September 15, Bagtyyarlyk district court in Ashgabat sentenced Halykov to four years in prison.

It emerged later that the deputy head of Turkmenistan’s Ministry of National Security, Orazgeldi Meredov – a “specialist” on political prisoners – had taken personal charge of Halykov’s case. He has paid personal attention to the cases of other activists too. The fact that the deputy minister of national security took charge of an apparently straightforward case of fraud reveals that Halykov’s persecution is politically motivated.

The UN Human Rights Committee, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the Justice for Journalists Foundation, the WHO, and many U.S. congressmen have all spoken out in support of Halykov. The authorities have not responded though.

Several political prisoners were included in the last mass amnesty, but not Halykov. And in April 2023, as far as we know, no single political prisoner has been released. The amnesty applied only to ordinary convicts.

Incidentally, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Turkmenistan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Rashid Meredov, in Washington on April 24. Judging from the record of the meeting, human rights were mentioned only in passing and no political prisoners were named.